NORTH ADAMS -- Windsor Lake is often a quiet, serene place locals visit to relax and cool off during the summer. But for a few hours each year, a surge of teenagers descend upon the park and raise the decibel level as old friends reunite, friendship seeds are planted and the LaFesta Baseball Exchange celebrates another anniversary.
That happened again Saturday when Boston's North End Babe Ruth team traveled west for the 23rd time.
Winning and losing has never been the Exchange's focus, but baseball is at its roots and will continue to be a major piece of the puzzle.
"This is what it's about right here, seeing the friendships and the kids getting a long," George Canales said. "I've said it in the past, sportsmanship is slowly drying up. This is why we started this exchange, to try to get sportsmanship back."
North End's Eli Swab, 16, made his third trip to North Adams. As the elder statesman of the group, he was an unofficial adviser to his teammates. He helped explain what to expect both on and off the field. He also was able to see how a first-time Exchange player reacts to all the new experiences.
"First thing I noticed was a lot of them were taking pictures when were driving along in the van when they first got to see ... because we come along the mountains and you can see down into the valley," he said. "Then they get here and they immediately want to go in the lake because that's a new experience.
"But I also notice a lot of them are apprehensive about going and introducing themselves to the North Adams kids right away."
And that's where baseball works its magic. It's a universal game that gives kids from two distinctly different backgrounds a talking point, a chance to make a new friend and broaden their horizons.
Swab said he notices a huge difference in how the teams interact from when they first meet in North Adams to when they reunite in Boston a couple weeks later.
"Playing against each other, it's a different way to get to know someone than just hanging out with them because you've actually opposed them," he said. "So when you get back together, it's like you spend more time with them."
The Exchange features kids ages 13 to 15, with the occasional 16-year-old. It's a tough age no matter how you look at it. Those in charge understand that, which is why they have established certain "rules" to help open the lines of communication.
North End coach Ralph Martignetti tries to encourage his kids to not be shy once they arrive, but knows sometimes it just takes time. When he sees it happen, like 13-year-old Zach Taieb playing Wiffle ball with about a dozen kids from North Adams, it puts a smile on his face.
"I'm happy with any type of progress like that because the North End, we're a very enclosed community," he said. "Just the fact that they come out here, they talk to different kids, get a different impression, I think it's a good thing for us."
The North End claimed a weekend sweep, winning 9-5 on Saturday before heading for home with a 17-10 win Sunday. North Adams has a chance to split the four-game series when it travels to Boston for the final two games.